Abigail Klein Leichman
April 8, 2015
Oxana Yablanskaya teaching during a recent video production for the website "Master Classes with the Stars."
Oxana Yablanskaya teaching during a recent video production for the website “Master Classes with the Stars.”

World-class pianist Oxana Yablonskaya fulfilled a four-decade dream when she officially became Israeli in November, just before her 76th birthday.

“I always wanted to be in Israel, and I am very proud and happy to be a citizen,” says Yablonskaya, who has been teaching, playing and recording piano music since the age of 17. She has earned an international reputation for “her powerhouse virtuosity, exquisite sensitivity, and deep emotional drive,” as the Yamaha Artists website describes her.

Yablonskaya recalls crying tears of joy when she saw the “Welcome Home” sign at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport as she and her husband, piano-maker Alexander Volchonok, arrived on November 9. They followed eight months after her son, cellist and Grammy-nominated conductor Dmitry Yablonsky, made aliyah with his family.

Yablonskaya first requested to leave what was then the Soviet Union in 1975. As a result, she lost her job as a professor at the Moscow Conservatory.

Through the intervention of 45 American celebrities and politicians — including conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein and the actress Katharine Hepburn – she finally won permission to go to Israel in 1977.

By that time, however, she had despaired of attaining her goal and had made arrangements to follow her sister to New York. She burst onto the cultural scene with appearances at Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Hall, and went on to teach at Juilliard School of Music in New York for 25 years, as well as giving concerts and master classes in about 40 countries.

Yablanskaya will continue teaching and performing in Israel.
Yablanskaya will continue teaching and performing in Israel.

Throughout those nearly 40 years,Yablonskaya visited Israel every year to participate in music festivals, concerts and classes.

“But now, with anti-Semitism reaching a level I have never seen before in my life, we decided we want to do everything we can for Israel,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

Her debut performance as an Israeli, earlier this year, was with her daughter-in-law, violinist Janna Gandelman, under the baton of her son at the helm of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. The three musicians are appearing together several times this April in South Africa with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.

Since making aliyah, Yablonskaya has participated in juried piano competitions in Rio de Janeiro, Norway and China; and appeared in music festivals in Spain and South Africa. Next she’ll perform in Kiev.

Dmitry Yablonsky – Yablonskaya’s son with her first husband, Russian oboist Albert Zaionz – also organizes the annual Gabala International Music Festival and the Wandering Stars Festival that travels from country to country.

Welcome home

Before settling down in Israel permanently, both families are temporarily based in Spain while juggling a full calendar of concerts, teaching and judging. Yablonskaya and Volchonok are still in the process of scouting out a forever home in Israel. During frequent visits, they stay in Tel Aviv but could imagine living anywhere in the country.

“I just need to have a garden for our four dogs and a large enough living room for all our pianos,” she tells ISRAEL21c on a Skype call from South Africa. “Meanwhile we’re in Israel as much as possible. I gave master classes in the Tel Aviv Academy of Music and in the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where I also had a solo recital.”

Her ambition is to continue giving master classes in her new homeland, not only to natives but also to students who come to her from countries including Japan and Portugal. “I give classes all over the world anyway, so now I want to do it in Israel,” she says.“I feel it is my duty. My son and husband and I all want very much to be active in Israel.”

Yablonskaya relates that she first visited Israel in 1979.

“My aunt helped build Kibbutz Afikim near the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] and she lived there all her life, so the first time I came to Israel she met me and we drove there. I didn’t go to any of the famous places. I played concerts on the kibbutz. Back then, there was maybe one orange tree, and now there is a forest full of flowers and trees and bushes. It’s really incredible — like a big garden.”

Over the years, Yablonskaya and Volchonok have purchased many trees to plant in Israel through Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, in memory of loved ones. “Now I hope to buy 100 trees to celebrate that we are Israeli,” she says.

The grandmother of two and great-grandmother of two says she is “full of energy” as she begins this new Israeli chapter of her life, and has only one unfulfilled wish: “I hope there will be peace.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director